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Day 2 of the GeekWire Summit 2016 at the Seattle Sheraton, October 5, 2016. Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire
Redfin CTO Bridget Frey; Galvanize Chief Legal and People Officer Stephanie Donner; Microsoft General Manager of Talent, Learning and Insights Joe Whittinghill; and OfferUp Vice President of Engineering Peter Wilson at the 2016 GeekWire Summit. Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire.

To those in the industry, the tech talent gap and diversity in the workforce are almost becoming tired subjects.

There are many thousands more tech jobs being created each year than there are qualified candidates — in Washington state alone, there are about 3,700 tech jobs created each year, and only 500 candidates who graduate with computer science degrees. At the same time, the workforce is increasingly made up of young, male, white employees.

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Scott McKinley, Dean and CEO of Northeastern University’s Seattle campus. Photo: Northeastern University Seattle.

Scott McKinley, Dean and CEO of Northeastern University’s Seattle campus, says industry and education must stop “finger pointing and whining” and work together to solve these challenges.

“There are people that are trying to chip away at this problem,” McKinley said, speaking at a panel on higher education in 2016 GeekWire Summit.

McKinley cited coding bootcamps and apprenticeship programs, like the WTIA’s Apprenti program, which are opening new pipelines into the tech industry, but he said these solutions are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to training and hiring qualified, diverse employees.

“We have this square peg round hole approach to our PR systems,” McKinley said, meaning fully-qualified candidates will be left out of the workforce because they don’t fit a cookie-cutter image of a new tech hire, or don’t come from the top schools.

The panel agreed that sexism and ageism are huge barriers to increasing diversity the tech workplace, partly because women and older candidates often do not have traditional Computer Science degrees.

Bridget Frey — CTO of Seattle-based Redfin, which has increased their female engineers to 30 percent of their team — said a core part of the company’s diversification was accepting candidates from nontraditional backgrounds, like coding bootcamps or those who have come from other industries.

Joe Whittinghill, the general manager of talent, learning and insights at Microsoft, said that the company has also begun taking into account unconscious bias — subconscious prejudices that can influence our thinking without us realizing it.

“We don’t know where the next talent is going to come from, and it isn’t always going to be the people who look like us or talk like us,” Whittinghill said.

“Even in the interview process, people are unknowingly screening out people we should be hiring” as a result of unconscious bias, he said.

Day 2 of the GeekWire Summit 2016 at the Seattle Sheraton, October 5, 2016. Photo by Dan DeLong for GeekWire
Panelists discuss ageism and sexism in tech at the 2016 GeekWire Summit. Photos via Dan DeLong

The result is a highly competitive hiring environment, with top tech companies poaching talent from each other in an effort to stay on top.

OfferUp’s Vice President of Engineering, Peter Wilson, said this kind of poaching is actually a waste of resources.

“I think the motivations of corporations are all wrong here,” Wilson said. “We piss away this money in a zero-sum game stealing engineers from each other.”

Wilson said the cost of poaching an engineer is about $75,000, but only $43,000 to spend a year studying computer science at Northeastern.

While there are many complex challenges to training a more diverse tech workforce, battling prejudices and putting resources towards more broad education are simple places to start, the panel said.

And although there is a lot of work to be done, the energy of today’s speakers and audience members made it clear that innovative solutions are just around the corner.

Editor’s note: The education panel was a sponsored session at the GeekWire Summit.

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